The 6-1-1 Sketching Session

What’s all this then?

A 6-1-1 is a structured sketching exercise. You may recognize it as a miniature version of a design studio workshop (example) or you may also see that it is very similar to some of the methods popularized through Lean UX and Design Sprints. I developed the 6-1-1 as a lightweight workshop while at LivingSocial in response to two main forces:

  • the emergence of Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s work in Lean UX, which I found very influential and was implementing at the office as a practice
  • the energetic environment of the company; exciting and creative but sometimes lacking in direction and focus.

When to do a 6-1-1

When you have a problem that you are trying to solve and…

  • You are having trouble coming up with solutions
  • You are having trouble agreeing on solutions
  • You are having trouble focusing on a solution
  • You need input on solutions from a diverse group of stakeholders
  • You need to get shit done fast
  • You need to get a lot of input from a a lot of people and bring focus to that direction as quickly as possible

In any of these cases, or in any combination of these cases, a sketching session can act as a powerful tool for bringing alignment and buy-in within your team and ultimately with the greater cross-functional set of stakeholders involved.

Continue reading The 6-1-1 Sketching Session

A Sample Design Collaboration Cadence

In order to maintain a decent level of collaboration within a design team, while maintaining a productive pace, and keeping transparent about upcoming roadblocks and needs for solutions, and finding opportunities to support each others in our design practice…. I ended up with a cadence of quick and straightforward cadence of check-ins and working sessions.

This assumes that the members of the design team are not embedded solely with individual development teams, but are shared as a committed resource. Individual designers will be dedicated to team-specific meetings like stand-ups, groomings, etc, as necessary, depending on your organizational structure.

  • Weekly, 30 min: Team meeting
    • The design team as a whole meets to check in on any news or updates that stem from higher organizational issues and raise any concerns for their own work.
  • Bi-Weekly, 30 min: 1:1s for personal development
    • Could be weekly if needed, of course
    • Opportunity for mentorship and management, pursuing opportunities for growth. As a manager, I’m asking these questions:
      • What is going well? 
      • What could be going better?
      • What do you want me to do more?
      • What do you want me to do less?
  • Bi-weekly: Team critique sesh
    • Designers take the initiative to set the stage for collaboration on their work through critique or other exercises
  • Monthly: 1/2 day: Team boost sharing skills or presentations
    • Opportunity for designers to share more deeply and broadly with the team, showcasing skills, providing training to others, presentations etc.

A Design Practice

Over the course of my career, a framework has started to come into view for a establishing or augmenting a design practice.* The framework has three key ingredients:

  • Methods: What do you do?
  • Infrastructure: What do you use to do it?
  • Personal Growth: What are you getting out of it?

Attention to these three areas provides a foundation that is both flexible enough to work in organizations of different sizes and workflows, but clear enough to stay relevant under different methodologies.

Methods

“What do you do exactly?”

This is the collection of executional tools we have at our disposal. This includes typical UX activities like card sorts, personas, prototypes, and critique, among others.

  • Specific executional methods: typically the work that goes into design deliverables; personas, prototypes, card sorts, sketches, etc. There are dozens of options, appropriate at different stages in of a given design project.
  • Participatory methods: tactically-focused exercises such as kickoff meetings, research interviews, sketching sessions, etc.
  • Processes: Executional activities and their resulting output is bundled into a process such as a Design Sprints or Lean UX sprint schedules, which provide a linear path for interactive discovery, design, and validation.

Infrastructure

“What do you use to do it?”

This is typically what we would refer to as design tools; the software, team structure. But this concept goes further to include conceptual infrastructure like design principles that provide thematic support to all the aforementioned methods.

  • Organizational infrastructure: team organization through clearly-defined team structure and roles–there’s a lot more to this, of course.
  • Technical infrastructure: software such as design and prototyping tools, file sharing, communication platforms, all of which facilitate the delivery of good work; also, reusable technical assets associated with style guides, templates, patterns.
  • Facilitation infrastructure: provided through the use of meeting agendas and other materials that are re-used in workshops or other sessions–key for healthy engagement with stakeholders
  • Thematic infrastructure: tenets such as principles, values, and methodology; tools that guide the team through tough decisions and elevate the team’s thinking around solving challenges. Principles are the outcomes we seek in the work we create. Values are describe how we want to work. Methodology is the school of thought that ties together the methods at use on a project.

Personal growth

Everyone on the team is advised to approach every project as an opportunity for personal growth. I have found, historically, that not very many people look at their work this way, as an opportunity for growth. But those who do benefit both personally and professionally.

“What are you getting out of it?”

  • Preferably, this starts with an introspective self-assessment to understand an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and understand the need for addressing these opportunities
  • Each project should be evaluated as a growth opportunity
  • What opportunity do you have to improve your “on-screen” skills, the nuts and bolts of the design process?
  • What opportunity can you find to improve your “off-screen” skills, your ability to work with stakeholders through facilitation, active listening, salesmanship, critique?
  • Not every project has to be a growth opportunity, but we keep revisiting this as a means of maintaining that trajectory

Putting it in motion

High-quality design methodology, both in process and execution will always be critical to any high-functioning team. An efficient infrastructure liberates the team members from the burden of re-building and wrangling repeatable assets, cuts down on variability and error within the product experience, and removes the cognitive burden associated with smaller design decisions from the team while the work is in flight. But none of this is worth doing if it is not a vehicle for one’s personal growth. We spend more of our waking day working than anything else and it should ultimately be a nourishing and rewarding experience.

So I’ll leave you with a hypothetical example of how a team would carry this through when starting a project.

Let’s say you start a project with a kickoff meeting (method). In this practice, the team would have a pre-set agenda for a kickoff meeting (infrastructure). The agenda had been tuned over time to assure that three criteria were met:

  • Define the problem space and objectives
  • Select design methods
  • Make a commitment to complete the work

In the kickoff, the team works together to get a sense of what they need to do for the project. They refine and agree on a problem statement (method) and an objective that they aim to meet (method).

Next, the team assesses what methods they want to use to reach that objective. Is field research the best way to get the qualitative data we need? Is there existing data from our analytics platform? Is Should we do a sketching session with the team to develop a direction for a prototype? Should we use the Design Sprint methodology for this problem?

Finally, there is some assessment of the path forward, an estimation of how long it will take and, based on the needs of the project and the strengths and weaknesses of the people on the team (personal growth), a determination of who should do the work. So, if it’s a mobile app project and a associate designer is looking to expand their repertoire with mobile, they could take the project on with a commitment from a senior designer to advise and mentor along the way, helping them ensure that the aligns with the team’s values and the work is in line with the team’s design principles (infrastructure).

Naturally, once the team adopted this perspective, all their dreams were fulfilled!

*Sometimes this is called DesignOps, and that’s cool with me, too.

Starting over

I let my site’s hosting lapse and, as per the hosting agreement, I lost everything. Once I coughed up the dough, I put up an old backup of the site, and now here I am with this fresh placeholder blog.

I haven’t written a blog post, personal or professional in a long time, so it’s pretty much a fresh start, or a fresh restart as it were, or a forced restart.

Whatever.

In the past, I wrote periodically about various issues I was facing, both professionally or personally. While I’m still working out whether or not to put together anything resembling a “plan” I figure I can focus my writing in a few key areas:

Tools for the design process: including, but not limited to, sample frameworks for doing work. For example, I have a pretty reliable method for running a brief and effective sketching session.

Posts on topics I’m trying to learn more about: I’m pretty committed to growth as a mindset, so why not activate this tool as a means for sorting, testing, and strengthening the learning experience. These would also act as drafts for future speaking or other presentations.

Posts on topics I like to talk about: I used to have a post for books I would recommend for people who are getting started in experience design. I had another for podcasts I’m listening to. Simple stuff, just posting up to share.

Hopefully this provides an outlet and lays the groundwork for some new direction. Let’s see what comes next.